Back-to-School IT Checklist

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For many, the month of August represents the true dog days of summer: those hot, sticky, lazy afternoons that seem to demand you do as little as possible and drink gallons of lemonade or iced tea.

Yet, as those days drag on, eventually the breeze begins to pick up and the air begins to cool, and students everywhere are suddenly reminded of their return to their respective hallowed halls — that’s right, school.

To help ease the transition, here is a basic checklist of back-to-school items that every IT student should consider now to prepare for later:

1. Get the gadgets. You want to step back on campus up-to-date and “teched” out. Now’s the time to invest in that smart phone or new laptop, as many technology manufacturers have back-to-school specials. For example, Apple is offering those who buy a new Mac a free iPod Touch via its “Back to School” campaign. Meanwhile, Dell and Microsoft offer student discounts, and Adobe has special “education pricing” that reduces software costs up to 70 percent.

Also, consider buying software separately from the computer. You often can save money this way.

2. Figure out funding. Now’s the perfect time to shore up your academic payment plan. Make sure you’re up-to-date on all outstanding loans and financial aid applications. To help you estimate your costs, check out this handy financial aid calculator at FinAid.org.

If you need additional funding or more information, check out this page on the government-sponsored Students.gov, which offers tips on applying to, preparing for and paying for your education.

3. Select your specialty. If you haven’t yet, give some thought to what area of IT you’d like to specialize in. There are myriad functions within the field, ranging from networking and security to software development and project management. This page on the Marquette University Web site offers helpful descriptions of the major job roles within IT.

Once you’ve settled on an area — or at least narrowed it down — you’ll want to make sure that when you return to school in the fall, you select the courses that will further your goal. Talk to your adviser and tell him or her what you’ve been thinking.

This also is a good time to start investigating relevant certification exams. Check out CertMag’s 2008 Salary Survey for some background information. A full, yet unofficial list of available IT certifications can be found here.

4. Apply for jobs. Whether you need a part-time job to help pay for your education or you simply want to boost your resume with some work experience, the best time to apply is before school starts. You have the time to research your options and find the best job for you. You have two options when it comes to location: on campus or off campus. Most schools offer on-campus jobs such as working in the library or cafeteria, or assisting professors with research. Contact your career services office to help you secure one of these jobs.

If you’d prefer to head off campus for work, you have several resources at your fingertips. You can check out reputable job-search sites such as CollegeJobBoard.com and CollegeGrad.com, or head to this page on the Students.gov site for additional suggestions.

5.   Get involved. Start the year off right by getting to know your community. There are myriad things you can do to get involved. You can volunteer your time, either in your college or in the local area. You can sign up to be a mentor to local youth. You can offer to be a tutor for peers. Check out the College Mentors Web site to scout out opportunities. The possibilities are endless — just make sure you’ll have enough time to devote to whatever you’re committing to, because you don’t want to overextend yourself.

– Agatha Gilmore, agilmore@certmag.com

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